Book Review by Alli Vail
Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club by Megan Gail Coles packs an intersectional wallop. Not even 20 pages and two characters in, and author Megan Gail Coles has tackled racism, identity, poverty, sexism, the marginalization of indigenous people, family, alcoholism and revenge.
Set in Newfoundland on Valentine’s Day, the novel has a narrow stage: the action happens in a restaurant between prep and dinner. Iris, the hostess, is sleeping with John, who’s married, and also the chef and a narcissistic gaslighter. Olive watches from the sidelines, busy with her own troubles. Other characters slide in and out. Coles snaps between characters with little warning. During the day, resentment, hurt, frustration and anger boil over as a snowstorm traps employees and customers inside the restaurant.
Small Game Hunting is on point with today’s social and cultural movements. I can’t fit all the subtle ways Coles exposes bias and assumptions into this review. Make no mistake: Coles is sharp. Biting. Her characters are ruthlessly introspective, but equally brutal in their observations of the world.
Take the privileged, corrupt mayor. His internal monologue is appalling, but reflective of online comments on news articles that delve into millennial issues and changing societal norms.
“Sheer lunacy: the things young people believe,” the mayor muses. “They want food trucks and parades and music and art. Fish tacos and foreign films and bikes and espresso. Right there, on the road, where the cars go, all summer long. People-friendly. Stroller-accessible. Green space. In the downtown corridor. Preposterous.”
What the mayor thinks about young women working is worse.
The women characters, primarily Olive and Iris, are more complex and sympathetic. They have something to complain about. Coles explores the fraught relationships women can have with themselves. Readers see this best with Olive. “The victim-blaming Olive perpetrated against Olive was far worse than any external victim-blaming. This was a never-ceasing internal narrative that confirmed repeatedly that Olive was disgusting.”
Coles side eyes the #NotAllMen argument. (It’s a complicated but google-able topic). In a brutal scene involving Olive and gang rape, Cole gets in front of the #NotAllMen perspective as if she knows it’s coming.
“There are beautiful courageous Newfoundland men cooking Sunday dinner while their wives read books on the couch,” she writes. “Or just fix stuff. See that it is broken and just fix it. No one is suggesting that these men don’t exist. But that’s not who was in that hotel room with Olive.”
Small Game Hunting is brutal, poetic and political. It’s uncomfortable for people who can’t handle truths outside their own experiences.
Megan Gail Coles will be appearing in the Domestic Thriller reading event Saturday October 19, 4:45-6:15 p.m. at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. Her book Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club was recently longlisted for the Giller Prize.